What’s the secret to training business success? The answer is likely to vary, depending upon your particular goals. But there’s one thing that unites every training provider I know.
In my travels as an extended enterprise learning technology consultant, I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people who are trying to sell training content in one form or another. But I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks they’re selling too much content. That’s never the case.
Everybody wants to sell more. That growth can come from one or more strategies. For instance, you can:
- Expand your organization’s reach into new markets,
- Increase the volume and frequency of content purchased by existing customers, or
- Create new training products to attract more business.
The desire to sell more is the reason why so many training providers have aggressively gone “all in” on digital transformation over the past few years. Certainly, when the pandemic jeopardized in-person classroom training revenues, moving online became an imperative for nearly everyone. But what’s your next growth move for training business success?
If you’re a forward-thinking training provider – or you’re only just starting to think about how to monetize instructional content – you’ll want to pay attention to the following advice from top digital training providers and technology innovators.
These suggestions are from guests on my Talented Learning Show podcast series. I think you’ll find insight and encouragement in each of their responses…
Training Business Success: Best Advice From Industry Experts
Q: If you were talking with another business founder who’s just starting out, what advice would you recommend for online training business success?
A: Martijn Theuwissen, Co-Founder of DataCamp
Focus on traction. Nothing is more frustrating than working for more than 100 hours to create a course, expecting that people will magically start taking it because you post something about it only once on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Really think about your distribution strategy. Because if that is right, more people will take your course. And that means you can gather a lot of feedback, so you can make your course even better over time.
That’s how you start differentiating yourself from someone who doesn’t focus on distribution.
If I compare our courses of today with those we offered six years ago, there’s a massive difference, in a good way. And that’s largely thanks to all the traction we generated early-on, and all the feedback our customers have provided so we could improve while scaling the business.
Q: Many training providers have moved online in recent years. What would you advise them to do next?
A: Ashish Rangnekar, CEO and Co-Founder of BenchPrep
This is a golden time for the training industry. It is truly a transformative time. There are going to be big, big winners.
The opportunity is tremendous. I was just looking at data saying that $250 billion dollars of value will be created in the digital learning space over the next five years. That includes all digital learning, but it shows how massive the opportunity really is.
So – to your question – when the pandemic struck, many training providers told us, “Let’s just put anything out there so that we at least maintain business and revenue continuity as everything shifts to digital.”
That was the right thing to do at that time. But now everyone is looking further forward at what will sustain their business for the long haul. So I recommend that training providers take a step back now.
The absolute first priority is to be sure you understand what your customers need in this new world. So spend some time with customers clarifying precisely what they value.
Next, figure out the kind of digital learning technology stack you need to build for long-term success. Think beyond just one tool, or digitizing a particular piece of content.
Instead, think about your three-year digital learning stack. Do you have an operating system you can use to build and scale that vision of your digital learning business? Solve for that, and you should find success.
Q: What would you tell training providers who want to raise the bar for their business?
A: Tamer Ali, Co-Founder and Director of Authentic Learning Labs
I would suggest several interrelated actions. These are probably no-brainers for groups that know what they’re doing, but they’re important for everyone.
First, draw up your next-level learning experience in a visual way. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just say, “We want to be the Amazon of Learning,” or that kind of thing. Those statements are a bit overplayed. Instead, map a learning experience that you believe is relevant and useful for your constituents.
In particular, map out your minimum viable product. Even though you’re transforming your training business, you need to be able to take a step forward. So think in increments.
If needed, find someone with experience who can help deliver on that next-level vision. Even if they’re not working with you full-time, let them help you define what it will take to be successful with that first-round concept.
And maybe most importantly, avoid building anything that will take longer than 4-5 months for that next round. Because all the strategic stuff has a half-life. What you think is cool and hip might work right now, but it may not stand the test of time. So, given the fluidity of our world, you should make sure that the target is very near.
Q: What lessons have you learned over the years that you think others should know?
A: Clare Marsch, Sr. Vice President of Training and Development at the American Bankers Association
Well, I think it’s important to remain open to new technologies and new ways of doing things. I’ve been in online learning since the early days, and there is so much more capability now. But the world has changed a great deal.
Initially, our strategy was to have one learning platform that supported everything. But I’ve come to realize that there isn’t one platform that does everything, because there are so many unique needs.
So we’ve moved to more of an ecosystem, where we’re able to deliver training content in whatever ways our customers want it to look and feel. Some want a subscription approach to certain content. Others want to just buy it by the drink.
You need flexible options because the world is full of different people with specific needs. Actually, the hardest thing for us to do is keep up with what’s new and what’s available and then work quickly to adopt new capabilities that deliver what people want.
So we, ourselves, need to be learners. We need to know what it’s like to want to learn how to do things better. So we read a lot. We subscribe a lot. And when we see something promising, we try it.
I think that strategy works best. If you want to try something, do it. Take the risk.
Start small, so if it fails, you fail small. Run a pilot project. That’s what we do. We run quick pilots, and if it works, we expand on it. We’ve tried some things that didn’t work well, so we abandoned them. But this “small risk” approach has served us well. Prove the point. Then move forward rapidly.
Q: Many associations offer continuing education directly to members. But selling that content through business partners can be much more complex. What should organizations know about that?
A: Linda Bowers, CTO at WBT Systems
Before you start selling content to partners, you’ll want to get a very clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish from a business perspective, and what kind of model best fits your goals.
If you try to fill every gap, you could end up with too many offerings. Instead, identify one or two approaches that make the most sense for your situation.
For example, it may be best to offer specific content bundles or to sell individual courses, as needed. Just be sure you specify a service model that is relevant for the audiences your partner serves and consider other business realities they’re facing.
Obviously, this can evolve over time. But initially, if you focus on how to package and deliver content in a way that partners will value, that’s a good starting point. Then everything else falls into place.
Think about how you manage the contract. Is it in the AMS or CRM? Is it in the LMS or self-serve? All of these things naturally flow out of that first, fundamental business decision.
Q: What would you say to people who want to make online learning more highly available through a remote content strategy, but don’t know how to get started?
A: Troy Gorostiza, President & CEO Knowledge Stream Inc. and Co-Founder, Course Container
Great question. The world is changing too rapidly to make external learning audiences come to your own ecosystem for access to all of your content. So I have several suggestions:
1) As you consider what it means to be an extended enterprise training provider, it’s important to investigate and understand your customer.
How can you provide what they need as they’re coming into your world? Or, to be more realistic, how can you make training content available within their system? This approach can give you multiple ways to offer your training without losing eyeballs or revenue streams.
2) If you already have a robust extended enterprise offering, I guarantee that you have customers who want your content to be available on their systems.
That’s why Course Container exists. The barrier to entry is low. The cost of getting started and the level of effort are minimal. And the content is secure. You’re not passing it over the fence. It’s in your world. You own it.
So start evaluating solutions like this. Or talk with your technical department about how you can develop something similar. It’s not easy to do, but it may be worth the effort.
3) Finally, think about ROI. There may be multiple issues: Is updating content and versioning causing a problem? Do you lack visibility and insight into who’s consuming your courses? Do you just need to make those courses available in a third-party system? Or has your LMS reached its content limit, but you need to serve huge video files?
Each of those needs could be the basis for a use case study or an ROI analysis focused on leveraging a remote content solution that stands alone or works side-by-side with an existing LMS.
Clearly, there is no magic bullet for training business success. However, there are useful strategies, methods and tools that will increase your odds. Each of these entrepreneurs has already experienced success first-hand – some multiple times. So I hope you’ll take their advice to heart as you consider next steps for your own digital training endeavors.
Thanks for reading!